Fallout from “Coming out” Atheist

Brittany Asks:

I am fifteen years old. I live in the heart of the bible belt with two parents who are not that religious but extremely hypocritical, judgmental, and intolerant. I am an Agnostic-Atheist. I will probably never be able to speak the four words to my family that I want to say most of all:

I Am An Atheist.

I really have three questions.

1.) What would most likely result from telling hypocritical hateful Southern Baptists? Is it worth it? Especially what would happen from my family.

2.) I plan to move to Massachusetts immediately after high school. Will it be better there?

3.) Living in the South, would it be worth it to allow myself to be brainwashed back into Christianity?

11 Responses to Fallout from “Coming out” Atheist

  1. Durzal says:

    Hello my friend

    I’m British so I’m probably not the best person to advise you on any of these questions as I’ve got no real idea of the sort of prejudice you may be inflicting upon yourself by speaking your mind.

    The only one that I would feel comfortable answering would be number 3.. and my answer would be ..
    I don’t think its possible to allow yourself to be brainwashed, there must be reasons you don’t believe in a God, hopefully they are logically sound reasons and I don’t see how you can decide to forget these reasons.
    I would have to ignore my education and common sense to allow myself to be brainwashed into Christianity, and I doubt its that easy.

    Your 15, I doubt proclaiming your atheism to your folks is needed (or wise) especially if its liable to cause a family rift and lets not forget at 15 they hold a lot of power over you.
    Your parents are not perfect, nobody is,(not even Durzal) but they mean well. If you believe coming out will cause havoc then I would recommend keeping your atheism to yourself, and just put up with the nonsense all parents will undoubtedly come out with a some point.

    In 3 years your 18 and things will be different and they will have to (grudgingly I’m sure) start treating you like an adult perhaps this would be a better time as they are more likely to discuss this with you sensibly rather than feel this is a phase or your playing out.

    The Atheist being a fellow American and Ex Christian will no doubt have greater insights and possibly better advice for you, I do hope my waffle has been of some use.

    Good Luck

    • Green Genius says:

      Dear Brittany,
      I know what you are going through. Although I was raised atheist. I have one word of advice, if you do wish to let people know your personal philosophy on life and put a label on it use the phrase non religious. It gets a less reactionary response across the board. Remember religion evolved as a group control measure and works all too well. Now we humans need to have our mythology updated and it isn’t easy to do.
      You are at an age where your parents are trying to control your mind so you see the world as they do. If they are intolerant it is because they are worried you won’t be as they are in your mind. Later on in life they will accept you or not depending on them. When people learn religion at a young impressionable age it is very hard to face reality, unfortunately.

  2. The Atheist says:

    I think Durzal has it exactly right, even if he isn’t as familiar with the American South.

    You won’t want to hear this, but let me start by saying that no matter how obtuse and hypocritical and hateful your parents are (and they may well be all those things – I don’t know them so of course I can’t say), they aren’t quite as bad as you think they are. I say this because it is natural for a person your age to see their parents faults amplified. It’s part of a rebellion process that we all go through. It’s in our genes.

    Regarding whether or not to risk “coming out” atheist, I’d say it depends on how much of the religious atmosphere you can really tolerate. If it’s just eating you up inside and you can’t bear it until you finally leave the house, then it may be worth the risk. But be aware that the fallout from “coming out” atheist might be as uncomfortable as the religious pressure you’re under right now. Maybe even more. But then again, your parents might just surprise you and accept your beliefs. I can’t tell you which is best, all I can do is give you a few things to consider while making your decision.

    If you do decide to tell them, you might be able to tell them without confronting them head on. Rather than hitting them with “I don’t believe there’s a God” and leave them standing there waiting for a lighting bolt to strike you, you might start with “I don’t feel like going to church today (or whatever it is you don’t want to do), I don’t really enjoy it and I’m not really getting anything out of it.” You get the idea.

    About Massachusetts, yes it’s really better than the South in terms of religious pressure. Much better. But even the South is OK depending on where you live. As a rule, larger cities and university towns are less oppressive than small rural towns.

    I think people really can be brainwashed into believing religious doctrine. I think that’s how the majority of believers come to believe in the first place – they were brainwashed as children by their parents, or they were brainwashed later by others. I don’t really know anyone who researches a particular religion, decides it makes sense, and then becomes a believer. I suppose it’s possible though. I do agree with Durzal: if you’ve already been indoctrinated with religious ideas since childhood and you somehow managed to see through the deceptions, then it’s not very likely that you could be hoodwinked into believing again. But I guess it is possible.

    • Green Genius says:

      Dear Atheist, Brittany could go along with the group and pretend she is a deity worshiper. This is what I believe tons of observant worshipers do. That is why they are accepting of people that say they are non religious. Secretly they agree with them and a some are scared of them and those are the ones that try to oppress the non religious.

      • The Atheist says:

        Hi Green Genius. Pretending to go along can sometimes be the best option. I personally know people who belong to very religious groups and have confided in me privately that they don’t believe like the group does. Either they have a radically different theology or they are altogether atheist. Those people seem happy enough to continue the pretense to preserving their personal relationships.

        But if deception is the best option, it can only be the best option for the short term. It’s a strain to maintain a lie in a close relationship. Good relationships are built on an honest representation of who you are. Lies about who you really are undermine relationships because it means that you don’t trust your friends and family to accept you as you are. It means that even if your friends and family like who they think you are, you don’t think they like who you really are. To distill it down further, you don’t think the people you like, like you back. That’s a very lonely place to be.

        If you want solid relationships, you just have to come clean at some point. It gives people the chance to truly be your friend. That said, “some point” isn’t always right now, especially if you’re trapped in a controlling environment.

  3. sobeiam says:

    Thanks for writing. I understand your confusion and I agree with the other posts – wait until your a bit older before you decide to come out. Until that time, as suggested, you might best prepare for the announcement, which you may decide to postpone to even further in the future, by planting little seeds – avoiding church, suggesting compassion when condemnation of others is the norm (perhaps you can say, “What would Jesus do?” – I look as Jesus as a man whose words have been twisted by men generations after his life. His life, from what I understand – I am not a historian – is one that can be admired without resorting to the conflicting and self-serving messages found in the Bible or accepting him as the son of God), or asking in a gentle way “But why?” when you hear something that doesn’t make sense. As a minor your parents do have a lot of control over your life so I suggest until you are ready to financially, socially (having a support network outside your religious community) and emotionally support yourself, try to find some way of living in your parents home with a modicum of peace.

    Are you free to spend time by yourself? Google atheism and the name of the next biggest town/city that is easy for you to travel to there might be meetings or a support group there. Join a book club at Barnes & Noble or somewhere else or go to readings of authors on subjects not normally discussed or approved of by your parents. Join FaceBook pages for people such as Christopher Hitches, Richard Dawkins, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU. All of these will be considered subversive by your community so you may have to do this carefully. Keep reading and posting to sites like this.

    BTW, since you are a minor NEVER MEET ANYONE YOU DON’T KNOW, ATHEIST OR NOT, IN ANY PLACE OTHER THAN A PUBLIC PLACE. MAKE SURE YOU GET THEIR NAME, PHONE NUMBER ETC. SERIOUSLY, EVEN ATHEISTS CAN BE BAD PEOPLE. I can not stress this enough. Predators prey on people who are in need of community and acceptance. They can smell it so please be careful as you seek out kindred spirits.

    How about Amnesty International? Is there a group near you? You might, not guaranteeing, but you might meet some open-minded, though not necessarily atheist, people there.

    You will, in your research, might get to meet religious people who will accept your beliefs and encourage you to investigate them. They do exist. They might encourage you in hopes you will find God but they won’t push or punish you.

    Respect others and their beliefs or non-beliefs. Be open minded in the way you want others to be open minded to you. People change and your parents may end up surprising you. It might actually be a relief to have someone they can turn to about their own religious questions because they are afraid to turn to their friends or church for the very reasons you are afraid. This is a long shot but it is possible.

    AS for Boston. I am from New York so can only speak for there. I currently live in Miami where I am appalled at the level of religious belief so I can only imagine how difficult it is for you. It is MUCH easier in the New York. Much, much, much easier. My friends there do believe in God but they accept my beliefs and they love me and think I am a good, moral person despite my non-belief. Of course, I DO NOT walk around telling them they are wrong. Whatever my beliefs are, they are my own and I can not force others to believe what I believe, even if I know it to be fact, because humans are like that. They will vote against their own best interests, they will force you to believe what they belief despite mountains of data or their own distaste for their own beliefs, etc.

    Keep posting and good luck. I wish you all the very best.

  4. brilea says:

    Thank you all so much. :)

  5. Sally J says:

    There is great value in all the comments above. I am also an atheist and raised DEEP in the bible belt. While my opinions have tempered with life experience and maturity in this stage of my late 30s, I can relate to your description of your parents.

    Living life as who you really are is crucial to sanity and self-esteem, BUT…when in doubt about what you want to share, instead ask others about their feelings about the topics that interest you – maybe your parents, maybe others in your life. People generally would rather talk about themselves than listen, and you might take a cue from how they present themselves. Either way, it will give you a chance to discuss that topic intelligently whether or not you choose to claim atheism out loud.

    I also encourage you to always, within yourself, address anger you feel at your parents and the religious fervor around you (and anything else in life). Because even righteous anger will eat you alive. I have grown to believe that being an atheist means that no one else’s faith alone can truly threaten me.

    And lastly, I live in a liberal metropolitan area in the Midwest and it is everything I hoped it would be. Ignorance is everywhere, though, and so is religious fervor of all flavors. Try to find the good in your hometown in the meantime. I regret not looking harder when I was in mine.

    Good luck!

  6. Scorpion says:

    First I gotta say, everyone else made some great points. I also lived in the Deep South (South Carolina to be exact) and now live in Texas (which is where I was born). I came out to my parents last year, except at that time I was a deist (which is a concept alien to much of the population of the town I was living in.

    My parents (rather my mom and her husband) fit the same category as yours except they are devotedly Southern Baptists (even though they claim not to be). My parents were more curious about my deconversion than critical or judgmental, however it did sometimes seem like they were taken in by the “atheists have lower moral standards” propaganda they were fed at their church (which I was forced to go to until I told them enough was enough after a deacon slapped me after I told him I didn’t really “Love Jesus”). Southern Baptists, from what I’ve experienced, can be phenomenal people. For example, before I left the state, I decided I’d visit the church one last time before leaving as I had had a lot of friends in there. The youth group was supportive of me, gave me a card, and their best wishes. I even was allowed to speak, and I admitted that I was an atheist to the group and instead of being stoned… I was treated the same as I always have been.

    I moved to live with my dad, who is less strictly religious (he claims to be Jewish, but his philosophies and even beliefs range everywhere from New Age to Eastern Philosophies), and have had little issues with being openly non-religious here. He has little issue with it.

    I’ve never been to Mass., and really no matter where you go there’s going to be both good and bad people.

    As for the third question. I’d advise against it, especially if it requires you pretending to be someone you aren’t. I’m 16, and going to church while being an atheist did not help me emotionally when I already felt alienated by my deconversion. The strain of being in a religious community when not religious will take some getting used to, but hiding the fact can also cause mental and emotional strain from my experience. And since you’re close to my age, I’d imagine it won’t be a good option just to go along with the churchgoers and religious.

  7. sobeiam says:

    Just a quick note to the last comment – the situation you are in is very supportive of your decision which may not be the case with the person asking this question. You moved to your Dad’s house and you told them you were a deist instead of an atheist at first. You pointed out you were slapped by the preacher when you said you didn’t love Jesus.

    What if this person’s parents BEAT them instead of just slapping them? What if they throw them out of the house? What if they try a FORCED religious act on them? What if they forced them to Church camp? I don’t know the rites of the religion practiced by the original poster but in the Catholic Church we had things like exorcisms and excommunication.

    What if, what if. My point is, and I think everyone but the last poster’s point, PROTECT YOURSELF. Ask yourself what your parent’s and community capable of and then decide. Decide if you can wait to tell them until you are legally on your own.

    The last poster’s situation has written all over it an exception to the rule in these communities in terms of access and safe haven with people whose views are different and more open-minded. Think about it – their mother married a Jewish man. That says a lot right there. Yes, she ended up divorcing him but still, she went outside her church to marry.

    All I am saying is you are a minor and your parents can do a lot of things to make your life extremely miserable beyond just getting you to church on Sunday if you should tell them.

  8. Carl says:

    I am a 47 year old Atheist who lives in the south and I still haven’t come out to my parents. They are devout Southern Baptist and would really have a hard time with it. It just isn’t worth it to me to hurt them. They don’t push their beliefs on me and I don’t push mine on them either.

    One suggestion I have it to use the term “Humanist”. That seems to soften it somewhat as most people don’t know what a humanist believes, or cares. The term “atheist” carries some negativity with it. I’m not ashamed of being one but the older I get the less it matters what people think.

    Regarding moving. I have thought the same thing, that it would be easier in the Northeast but remember when you move you take yourself with you. You will have the same issues there that you have now. You don’t have to make your belief, or lack of one be a big issue. You don’t need to hide who you are but you don’t have to wear it on a tee shirt. Live and let live. Life is too short.

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